Bio·​phil·​ia: A new grant for our new program on nature, design, and connection to the living world

Thanks to a grant from Arts Midwest, Project Optimist will feature essays, visual art, and design about connecting with the natural world in 2024.

Bio·​phil·​ia: A new grant for our new program on nature, design, and connection to the living world
(Andi Lynn Arnold for Project Optimist)

The sound of wind blowing through evergreens will stop me in my tracks, even on routine dog walks in my neighborhood. So will the calls of geese and trumpeter swans, the circling of a bald eagle, and the orange cast of sunlight on the tip of a tree as the sun rises or sets.

These moments of connection to the natural world are commonplace and also extraordinary. We all can experience awe, peace, and groundedness, spurred by nature. We're often inspired by it.

Project Optimist is so inspired by our human affinity with nature, we're putting it at the center of our arts program this year. We're calling the program Biophilia. And we're thrilled to share that it's funded by a $15,000 grant from Arts Midwest! We're now part of its year-long Creative Midwest Media Cohort.

Project Optimist will feature essays, visual art, and design around the theme of biophilia. We hope you will join us as creators and engage with us through the newsletter and our social media channels.

Let's start right now! Share with us a photo or short message about how you enjoy time outside now, in the depth of winter. Send photos and notes to Erica at or share through Instagram. Make a post and tag us We'll compile and share out your responses.

Sun rises over Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn., on a winter morning.
The sun rises over Lake Superior on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024 as seen from Leif Erikson Park in Duluth, Minn. (Erica Dischino for Project Optimist)

What's 'biophilia'?

Biophilia is defined as "a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature" or "a desire or tendency to commune with nature."

For me, there's nothing hypothetical about biophilia. We aren't just drawn to nature. We are nature, said Alexa Shapiro, Project Optimist's event manager and a true outdoorswoman, in an early meeting about this project.

I remember a video of a waterfall broadcast in my hospital room that helped me feel unexpectedly calm in the midst of a traumatic experience. My husband used to find a tree to eat lunch by, often on the fringes of parking lots, when he traveled for work. We are drawn to even the smallest natural elements, and they support our mental and physical well-being.

Biophilia is also a design principle that shows up in architecture. There's an effort to make our built environment reflect the outside world – where our ancestors lived for the vast majority of human existence. We will explore this intersection of nature and design all year with you and thought leaders across Minnesota.

What's Arts Midwest?

We're very grateful to Arts Midwest for supporting our program. This is a great group that supports and highlights creative work across the region. Check them out here.

Here's what Arts Midwest President and CEO Torrie Allen said about the Creative Midwest Media Cohort: “We envision this new initiative building a connected network of media-makers across the Midwest, while sharing stories of how creativity manifests in our lives.”

Let us know how creativity and biophilia show up in your life this January! And stay tuned for beautiful and original content.

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